Amanda MacMillan June 17, Every summer, we hear terrifying stories about people who picked up deadly germs from swimming. Just last year, for instance, a Florida man died after encountering Vibrio vulnificus flesh-eating bacteria in the Gulf of Mexico, and a Minnesota teen died shortly after contracting a brain-eating amoeba from swimming in a lake. But swimmers, don't panic. Though cases like these pop up each year, they're few and far between.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC says if you avoid swallowing the water and don't swim in lakes deemed unsafe by the Environmental Protection Agency , then you're most likely in the clear. That said, milder recreational water illnesses are very common. Educate yourself on the four most common ways swimming can make you sick, and what you can do to protect yourself and your family.
Diarrhea Once water has been contaminated by germs that cause diarrhea, a swimmer only has to swallow a tiny amount to become infected. These germs—such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, norovirus, and E.
That's why public pools require you to take a shower before you take a dip. Animals in the water can also pass on these germs, Benson adds.
A dry mouth, cracked lips, flushed skin, headache, confusion, or urinating fewer than four times a day are also signs you should get medical attention right away. The longer your skin is exposed to contaminated water, the more likely you are to get hot-tub rash.
Hot-tub rash, which usually appears as itchy, red, bumpy spots or pus-filled blisters, usually goes away on its own in a few days. If a rash lasts longer than that, call your doctor. It's more common in kids than adults, and can cause itching, pain, and swelling. In some cases, pus may drain from the ear ick. See your doctor if you think you have swimmer's ear—you may need antibiotics to treat it. To protect yourself, dry ears thoroughly after swimming with a soft towel, says Benson. You can also tilt your head from side to side and pull gently on your earlobe to help water escape, or run a hair dryer on low heat a few inches away from your ears.
Respiratory problems Germs that live in hot tubs or pools can also infect people who breathe in steam or mist coming off the water. Legionella is found naturally in water, especially warm water.
Making sure that a pool or hot tub is properly cleaned and disinfected—either by asking or by testing it yourself—can reduce your risk of becoming infected.
It is usually treatable with antibiotics when diagnosed early, but it can sometimes be fatal.